Posts Tagged ‘R.K. Laxman’

T.S. SATYAN: Small, simple, casual, basic, humble

12 December 2012

Satyan_1

Tomorrow, December 13, is the third death anniversary of Tamabarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer better known as T.S. Satyan, the legendary photojournalist and contributor and well-wisher of churumuri.

Here, a friend pays tribute.

***

By ASHVINI RANJAN

All photographers working with life-forms, more so humans, would at some time or the other have wished they had the power to become invisible.

A power to enable them to take pictures without the subject becoming conscious of being photographed.

The sight of a camera has something hypnotic on the human mind.  It deep freezes expressions and transforms them to look anything but natural. A kind of rigor mortis of the facial muscles sets in. Further damage is caused when the photographer announces his readiness by saying ‘smile please’.

Barring blissfully ignorant children who have  not yet come under the spell of the camera, the effect is universal.

Even veteran actors struggle all their lives to look their natural self in front of a camera.

The incredibly true-to-life human portrait that T.S. Satyan was able to capture in his camera was largely due to his remarkable skills of camouflaging  not only the camera but himself as well.

***

Satyan’s  presence in a crowd was hardly noticeable. The man was of average height, lean, brown skinned, soft spoken, dressed in a dull bush shirt and pant, wore chappals for foot wear, and seldom established eye contact.

As nondescript  as R.K. Laxman’s ‘Common Man’.

He even spoke the language of the common man.

Unlike most of us who are prone to draw attention or be recognized in an assemblage of people, Satyan worked hard on remaining  unnoticed. He seemed to have perfected the art to the extent he came close to being non-existent. Being physically small made, his movement too was easy and without a rustle. He took small steps when he moved.

Everything about him was casual and unhurried.

Satyan belonged to the age of black and white films and SLR cameras. He refused to be lured by the technological marvels of the digital camera.

He remained a Brahmin in that sense.

The camera he used was basic, compact and each exposure required manual settings.  He carried the equipment in a cloth bag slung over his shoulder which reached down to his hip.  It had a wide opening at the top which enabled him to remove and slip in with ease.

The camera came out of the bag only after he had seen a setting worthy of a picture.

With a basic camera that Satyan carried, there wasn’t too much scope for fiddling with the settings.  He seldom carried more than one lens and therefore no fuss about changing them and drawing attention.  The picture quality was discovered only after the film was processed.

To Satyan’s generation of photographers, the mind, the eye and the body had to be in total sync, before freezing the frame.

***

Once I spotted Satyan in Devaraja vegetable market; his favorite haunt in Mysore where he has taken some of his best known pictures.

I resisted the temptation of  catching up with him.  Instead,  I walked behind him keeping a distance.

There was a young man selling raw peanuts.  Satyan stopped a distance from the vendor, stood awhile possibly assessing and exploring  the possibility of a picture.  He then went round the subject looking at the surroundings, frequently looking up at the mid day sun and the shadows it cast.

He then went and sat on a folded gunny sack used as a mat not far from the peanut vendor and the heap of his merchandise in front. The young man momentarily noticed the presence of a stranger sitting close by. I soon noticed that Satyan’s disarming smile and the banter that had put the youngster at ease.

After perhaps a few pleasantries, the peanut vendor went about his business unmindful of the stranger.

The time Satyan sat there hunched and cross legged, the world went by including the local populace.  Neither the vendor  nor the many shoppers noticed that the man sitting there was a celebrated photo journalist whose photographs had appeared in the  prestigious Time and Life magazines.

A recipient of the coveted Padmashri award and a internationally acclaimed  photographer.

Contrary to my expectation, Satyan did not take a picture of the young man. When he got up to leave, the peanut vendor picked up a fistful of peanuts and offered it to Satyan. The gesture was gratefully accepted and Satyan put the offering into his camera bag.

Later when I caught up with Satyan,  I found him feasting on the nuts that he had received.

Curiosity got the better of me when I asked Satyan why he had not taken a picture of the peanut vendor.  It was when he told me that the young man was too conscious of his presence.  With this acquaintance established with the peanut vendor,  he would come back at a later date to shoot him.

***

Satyan2

Satyan once volunteered to take pictures of children of  the Pratham Mysore Balavadi schools.

When we arrived at Kesare, one of the less developed areas of Mysore, Satyan insisted that we park our car at a distance and walk the last stretch to the school where the children had assembled to make a quiet entry into the school.

He preferred to be by himself with the children and sat on one of the steps outside a class to talk to the children in Urdu as it was predominantly a Muslim locality. The chocolates that he had carried in his camera bag attracted the children like ants to a honey pot.

Of the hour that we spent at the school, Satyan played with the children for a good part of our stay.  They were all over him playing and tugging at his clothing and his bag.  All the  pictures that he finally captured were taken in less than ten minutes.

The children continued to play paying little or no heed either Satyan’s  camera or his work. Needless to say, the man had given thought of all possible situations that he was likely to encounter before venturing out on the assignment.

***

I met Satyan through his son Nagendra. I was drawn to Satyan from our first meeting both because of my interest in his  profession,  his inimitable sense of humor and his unique story telling abilities.

During our meetings, Rathnamma, his wife, would sit through the evening unmindful of the number of times she had heard the stories.  Except for the occasional reminder not to exceed the quantities of his favorite cashew nuts,  she remained the quiet dutiful wife.

On the 13 December 2009,  I was away in Bangalore when I received a call from his son Nagendra informing me that Satyan was no more.  By the time I reached Mysore that evening,  the house was nearly empty with only members of the grieving family.

True to his persona, Satyan had made quick and quiet exit.

This time to remain truly invisible and  forever.

Also read: Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

The genius of the Indian villager

Hurgaalu and Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time with Sir C.V. Raman

‘Simplicity and grace born out of true greatness’

How can Bhyrappa & Co be same as Yedi & Co?

2 October 2012

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Parochial thoughts. Narrow-minded pettiness. Divisive ideas that spell acrimonious discord. Ttaking cheap potshots at men and twisting core issues out of proportion. Displaying a reckless and irresponsible sense of disdain towards the sensitivities of society.

Raising issues of language and even caste….

These, as no one would dispute, have been observed for long as the in-built characteristics, perhaps the very genetic make-up of men and women, who identify themselves as politicians in this country, of course with the odd exceptions, who anyway show up on our political horizon, as regularly as a certain comet named after an English astronomer called Edmond Halley.

But for writers, for men of letters?

The commentators of society at large, those who, with their power of the pen and their intellect can dissect and disseminate thoughts?

They, who tell stories of man and have the talent to chronicle the ways of humankind?

They, who are supposedly adept and capable of sifting the chaff from the grain of life itself; those who have been endowed the powers and gift of serious, sensitive, responsible, fair, meaningful, and worthy intercourse on matters profound and intelligent?

They, who are the arbiters of all that should be invoked in society in order to make it a better entity for lesser men to inhabit; those ordinary members of the public who obviously do not have the talent and the powers of serious writers?

For a group of such writers to make a case for a fellow-writer, R.K. Narayan, to not have the posthumous privilege of a memorial in his name; in a City (and at a home) in which he lived and wrote for close to 50 years is something that simply confounds, confuses and numbs the minds of all right-thinking citizens of the great city of Mysore.

Narayan was a man who traversed its lanes and by lanes with fond affection; someone who made a fantastic connect with the very ethos of the city, its people, their ways, their eccentricities and foibles, their loveliness and innocence, their very being in a sense; and weaved some of the most rollickingly interesting, sensitive, comical, gentle, poignant and tender stories of his age and time about a certain unique culture, and immortalised in print, the very soul of a largely unknown city called Mysore which was widely presumed to be his literary muse, among the rest of India as also in the eyes of the west, save for those few westerners who had had the pleasure and honour of having been invited to the city and acquainted to it by its Maharaja as his guests, perhaps for Dasara or the Khedda in the jungles of Kakanakote.

That Narayan did not speak Kannada; that he chose to move to Madras during his later years; that he did not donate his manuscripts to the University of Mysore and chose to give them away for a price to a foreign university; that he was not a Kannadiga in the first place but a Tamilian.

So what’s new about such haranguing?

What is new is this, perhaps not so new but something that needs to be reiterated at this juncture.

That R.K.Narayan was a man who had the gift of the pen like no other Indian writer in English had some 75 years ago, that he was a man who had the confidence and the literary flamboyance to make an English publishing house in England of that era sit up and take notice and finally agree to publish his stories, for their sheer flow and flair, for their simplicity of prose and the absolute enthralling grip of the narration; about a people and their culture, that was I’m dead sure, to the publisher himself as alien, strange and unknown as the river Avon and the denizens who populated its banks was, to the dramatis personae of Narayan’s stories!

The decision to become a full time writer and endeavour to make a living off it, with a family to feed; at a time in history when Indians at large, barely comprehended the alien language, let alone write or speak it with any great expertise.

Narayan’s tensions, his worries, and the patience he exercised in waiting for replies from a place, England, so far from Mysore that it could well have been on another planet, every time he either sent excerpts of his writings or plainly corresponded with potential publishers.

At a time when the red-coloured post box was all that existed as a symbol of communication. And not the power of the telephone or the speed of the internet, for heaven’s sake.

At a time when most Indians were ridiculed for their lack of English proficiency, so much so, that most of them were thought to not even be able to write four meaningful lines by way of a leave letter to be presented to their bosses in office; for Narayan to be able to write not four but perhaps forty thousand or four hundred thousand lines in English that not only impressed but had the west in thrall is a decent enough reason to remember him.

To cut to the chase, let’s give Mr Narayan a memorial for sure.

And as soon as possible.

For in his memorial shall lie the story of one man’s inimitable brilliance and perseverance in making the impossible possible. To put it simply, that is.

It simply shouldn’t matter that he was not born 16 miles west of Holenarispura or some such place in Karnataka and that his father was called Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer.

Cartoon: courtesy Mahmud/ Praja Vani

Also read: Four reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-rishi

A home that housed four generations of genius

9 October 2011

For a decade after his demise, R.K. Narayan‘s lovingly built residence in Mysore lay unloved and uncared-for. The sight of the crooked teeth of excavators rapaciously chomping at its edges suddenly woke up everybody–the media, the intelligentsia, the government—to what they were about to lose: a slice of Indian literary history.

Eventually, the government jumped in to declare Narayan’s home a heritage building, with the promise to restore it to its original shape. On his 105th birth anniversary, Narayan’s grand-nephew, the journalist turned corporate manager Chetan Krishnaswamy, recaptures life as it used to be at 15, Vivekananda Road, Yadavagiri, Mysore 570020.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

Many years ago in Madras, reclining on an easy chair and chewing on a piece of clove, R.K. Narayan quite uncharacteristically said: “Although I have built the Mysore house brick by brick, I carry no emotions, no nostalgia about it…. In life one has to move on, you can’t simply dwell in the past.”

I don’t quite remember the details now, but oddly, that muggy afternoon, I thought I detected a streak of nostalgia beneath the veneer of cold pragmatism and bravado.

In a 2006 Boston Review article, Jhumpa Lahiri, the American writer of Indian origin, found similarities between French writer Guy de Maupassant and Narayan’s literary styles: “Both explore the frustrations of the middle class, the precariousness of fate, the inevitable longings that so often lead to ruin. Both create portraits of everyday life and share a vision that is unyielding and unpitying.”

In hindsight, I wonder: were Narayan’s comments on his house an extension of this rather passive worldview that Jhumpa articulates so well?

***

A 1952 picture of R.K. Narayan at home with his nephews and niece. Seated on a chair is his mother Gnanambal, standing by the door is his daughter Hema and younger brother R.K. Srinivasan. Photograph by T.S. Satyan.

The true magnificence of RKN’s sprawling bungalow on 15, Vivekananda Road in Yadavagiri, Mysore, lies in the lively people who inhabited, or were associated, with it throughout its 60-plus years of existence.

In 1948, the scrubby land measuring 180 x 120 was bought from a local Shetty at the rate of around Rs 2 per square yard. Narayan’s older brother R.K. Pattabhi had a share in it, too.

By this time, Narayan had already established himself as a writer and was attracting global acclaim. He had written  four novels: Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938) and The English Teacher (1945).

Two short story collections—Malgudi Days (1942) and An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories (1947)—both published by his own publishing house Indian Thought Publications, were out by then.

Mysore’s famous chief engineer Shama Rao (who had built the famous Krishna Raja Sagar Hotel and after whom a string of  buildings are named in Mysore’s Vontikoppal, including the shopping complex on 3rd main road called Shama Rao building), who was retired by then, was given the contract to construct RKN’s house in 1949.

In keeping with his grand and selfless desire to have his extended family by his side, Narayan designed a large, roomy home that would accommodate his brothers, their wives and their children. By this time, the cartoonist R.K.Laxman, the other famous sibling, had already flown the coop and was building his reputation in distant Bombay.

The extended family which resided at door number 963, Lakshmipuram, comprised brothers R.K. Srinivasan and Pattabhi and their families apart from Narayan’s daughter Hemavathi (his wife Rajam had passed away suddenly in 1939).

Reigning over the household was Narayan’s mercurial mother Gynanambal—expert cook, chess champ and tennis player all rolled into one. The other two brothers Ramachandran and Balaram were away in other cities, so were the two sisters.

Constructing a house in Yadavagiri—the hilly area was named thus by the famous administrator M.A. Sreenivasan, since the Melukote temple was apparently visible from this location—then a remote corner of Mysore was replete with challenges. [The last pradhan of Mysore, Sreenivasan's daughter Devaki married the social economist, L.C. Jain. Their son Sreenivasan Jain is an NDTV editor.]

The terrain was strewn with steep slopes and sharp dips, with absolutely no access to water.

The contractor had worked out a system where a bullock cart periodically rattled on to the site with drums of water drawn from Kukkarahalli tank, a scenic spot which had fuelled  Narayan’s creative instincts and offered him the “world’s best sunsets”.

At the building site, there was a stone grinder or chakki—powered by sturdy bullocks which mixed the lime and mortar that went into the construction of the house. Narayan intermittently visited the site and used the services of another civil engineer friend A.K.S. Raghavan to monitor and supervise.

Finally in 1952, the construction work was completed. The griha pravesha was a “grand affair” and the family carries sunny memories of the day. For the kids – trudging up to the new house in Yadavagiri -through the undulating landscape – was an expedition in itself.

Among the guests was Soma, a blind mystic who lived atop Chamundi hills and who had taken a liking for the family. On one occasion, the gifted Soma through his clairvoyant powers had accurately traced Laxman’s wife Kamala’s missing diamond ring, that had been swept away with the garbage.

***

R.K. Narayan, behind the wickets, playing cricket with his nephews Thumbi (R.S. Krishnaswamy) and Nokki (R.S. Jayaram), and niece Shanta, at their Lakshmipuram residence. Photograph by T.S Satyan.

And then came the unforeseen crisis, probably quite amusing in hindsight.

None of Narayan’s brothers were keen to relocate to Yadavagiri from the centrally located Lakshmipuram. This, despite the comforts of  a large house. An affectionate Narayan would plead and sometimes even shed tears but both Pattabhi and Srinivasan were unrelenting.

Meanwhile, a confused Gynanambal toed the line of her eldest son Pattabhi.

In light of this new dilemma, Narayan settled into a peculiar routine: After his breakfast in 963, Lakshmipuram he would go for a long walk, and after lunch be driven in his silver-grey Morris Minor to Yadavagiri by driver Rangappa, who was paid a salary of Rs 50 per month.

In the unbroken silence of his house, Narayan wrote profusely only to stir now and then to mix coffee, and munch on his favorite “Golden Puff” biscuits. This was the phase in which he wrote two of his novels: The Financial Expert and Waiting for the Mahatma.

By about 5.30pm, after lighting the lamp in the ‘pooja room’, Narayan would be back home in Lakshmipuram for his routine evening walk with brother Srinivasan. The walks would invariably be around bustling marketplaces and streets like Rama Vilas Agrahara.

Late evenings would be spiced up by gossip sessions with his family, which I have referred to elsewhere on churumuri.

The writer kept up with this routine for quite some time.

Eventually, for about a year, 15, Vivekananda Road was rented out to Henry C. Hart, a visiting professor of political science from the University of  Wisconsin, on a monthly rent of Rs 200. Hart was in India on a Fulbright fellowship, with his wife in tow.

Their legacy was an elegant piece of furniture custom made for the house: wooden seating that skirted the entire semi-circular perimeter of the large living room. After many years of service, and in the wake of sustained onslaught from a riotous bunch of kids, that primarily included my cousins, the furniture slowly disintegrated.

Narayan engaged a watchman cum gardener, Annamalai, who later became the subject for one of his short stories. He was given a room in the basement, and he would  often rustle up a deliciously smelling vegetable sambar in a pot balanced over a crude hearth made up of two stones.

During Narayan’s first visit to the United States of America in 1957, to undertake the writing of  The Guide commissioned by Viking, a strong Godrej padlock was installed on the front door of 15, Vivekananda Road.

There were numerous anxious and embarrassing moments when Narayan would misplace the keys and would be found standing in the porch helplessly. In due course, the writer spent his nights in Yadavagiri alone. He would be driven to the house every evening by his driver Majeed in a Standard Herald that he had bought by then.

Around that time, 15, Vivekananda Road, had a surprise visitor one morning.

The flamboyant actor Dev Anand accompanied by Yash  Johar (Karan Johar’s father) had dashed to Mysore, after giving a day’s notice to Narayan. The actor was there to negotiate for the filming rights of The Guide.

Narayan’s starstruck nephews were directed to fetch a breakfast of idli-vada and dosas  from Seshagiri’s hotel (Hotel Ramya now).  After thoroughly enjoying the meal, Dev is said to have whipped out his cheque book and asked “how much?”.

RKN feebly said, “I don’t know.”

Dev left after presenting the author with an advance of  Rs 5,000.

***

Finally, with the daughters of the house married and gone and brother Srinivasan moving out of  Mysore in pursuit of government service, a hesitant Pattabhi gave in. Much to Narayan’s relief Pattabhi moved to Yadavagiri with his wife and mother. Also in tow were Narayan’s young nephews R.S. Krishnaswamy and R.S. Jayaram, both studying at the Mysore’s National Institute of Engineering (NIE).

In 1973, Narayan’s mother Gynanambal passed away.

Among the longest residents of the house was Narayan’s nephew Jayaram and his family who lived there between 1974 and 1983. The writer’s grandchildren Srinivasan (Chinni) and Bhuvaneshwari (Minnie) also stayed in the house for a few years while pursuing academics in  Mysore.

***

The large, two storied house of around 5000 sq ft had five bedrooms, with attached bathrooms.  There was a spacious semi-circular living room with an array of  windows that brought in the sunlight.

The dining hall, kitchen, an unusually huge store-room adjoining a ‘pooja room’  formed another portion of the expansive house.

A winding, narrow flight of stairs led to Narayan’s airy room on the top floor.

The room was minimalistic – almost spartan- in décor. Apart from a single cot, there was this heavy easy chair and a solid walnut table from Kashmir on which rested an assortment of books and papers.

In another corner Narayan displayed his interesting collection of miniature owls, which he had picked up during his travels. On a wooden bracket fixed to the wall rested the Filmfare award (which the writer had won for The Guide) and other memorabilia. That he never though too highly of this award was another thing.

The room had a modest ante chamber where Narayan tucked away his veena. He played it well. The veena exponent Doraiswamy Iyengar, who was a close friend, played the instrument frequently for Narayan.

Some of the greatest musicians who were friends of the family had privately recorded for Narayan.

A number of them including M.S. Subbulakshmi (whom he affectionately called Kunjamma), M.L.Vasanthakumari, Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer and D.K.Pattamal visited the Yadavagiri home and stayed on for days, with the RK family.

One of these friendships turned into a matrimonial alliance, when Pattamal’s son married Pattabhi’s only daughter Shanta in 1967.

Narayan’s cupboards held a large collection of audio tapes, mainly Carnatic music. Some of them were recorded by the singers (without accompaniments) exclusively for Narayan.  There were times when the writer himself recorded the private renditions on his state of the art spool tape recorders, Grundig or Uher.

On the wall of his room was a framed picture of his late wife Rajam. He would regularly place a string of jasmine flowers on the frame every day. The room opened up to a cosy balcony, which was Narayan’s favorite spot. He sat there, hours on end, writing, watching the flitting birds and squirrels on the frangipani  tree that majestically arched into the compound, scattering its canopy of green.

Sometimes he would meditate and recite a version of the Gayatri mantra sitting here. Narayan  had revealed to my aunt Rajani, Jayaram’s wife, that this particular mantra was a revelation that was relayed to him from another spiritual plane.

Narayan had also procured an exquisitely carved six-inch Gayatri statue for his table from the “School of Sculpture’’ opposite the Kama Kameshwara temple at Hale Agrahara in Mysore. This rested inside his cupboard.

The other room, which usually accommodated guests and other relatives who were on an extended stay, had an unusual revolving wooden shelf, which originally belonged to Narayan’s academic father R.V. Krishnaswamy Iyer. The shelf creaked and groaned under the weight of the thick hardbound classics, some of which were rare out of print editions.

The house had a garage which at one time held Narayan’s Mercedes Benz, a gift from a publisher which he subsequently disposed off. There were also two make shift ‘sheds’ that in the later years were used to park the other automobiles in the house.

Narayan’s obsession  with coffee has been well documented, and it was a fact that he was finicky about his blend. He went to great lengths to get the right proportions, sometimes lecturing the household women on the correct way of making coffee.

The writer had eight coffee makers and percolators, with which he would constantly experiment, before finally settling for his tumbler of traditional filter coffee.

In 1987, after Pattabhi’s death, Narayan travelled into Madras and the US, periodically coming into Mysore. From 1991 onwards he started living in Chennai owing to his ill health. For many years, the empty house was taken care of by Narayan’s driver Krishnamurthy.

‘Krishnamurthy, saar‘, as we called him, came to the house in the evening on his Luna and left early next morning. A beat constable would appear every night and sign on a roster, hurriedly survey the compound and sometimes chat with the security guard before sauntering away.

Sometime in early 2000, the house was leased out to the cousin of a very powerful Congress party politician. The influential tenant used it as an office cum residence, altering certain facets and progressively destroying the old world charm of the house.

At one point, he stopped paying the rent and refused to move out. The family seemed helpless…

One fine morning, suitably galvanized by Narayan’s son-in-law Chandrasekaran, who lives in Chennai, I strode into the house determined to take on the truant tenant.

I was accompanied by a few friends including Vinay Ramakrishna, an old friend and long-time resident of  Yadavagiri.

After making us wait for a long time, the kurta-clad man came down and spoke to us in the most unfriendly manner, clearly indicating that he would leave the house when he felt the need to do so.

I left the house quite disappointed and reported the conversation back to Chandrasekaran. In a few months’ time, good sense prevailed and the man left the house but in complete disarray.

***

Today 15, Vivekananda road  stands forlorn, almost ghostly, echoing the laughter, the quibbles and the genius of four generations of an uncommon family that it has nurtured.

Patiently,  uncomplainingly, it waits for that fresh gust of wind to breathe again.

Photographs: courtesy M.A. Sriram/ The Hindu (top), and T.S. Satyan via Frontline

Also read: ‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

How R.K. Narayan passed the test to be an MP

S.M. Krishna revives Churumuri’s RKN campaign

23 August 2011

The minister for external affairs, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, may be creating news for all the wrong reasons in the year of the lord 2011. But he has struck the right PR note by reviving churumuri.com‘s acclaimed campaign for recognition for India’s original English writer, R.K. Narayan, in his hometown, Mysore.

When churumuri.com was launched in 2006, we made an all-out effort to get Narayan his due place in the landscape of Mysore, where he spent almost all his life and from where he gave the world, Malgudi.

A churumuri delegation comprising the photographer T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram even made a representation to the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, armed with reader suggestions on how Narayan’s memory could be perpetuated.

After all the usual noises from the usual quarters, the campaign died a slow death.

Now, S. M. Krishna, a close friend of  RKN’s brother, R.K. Laxman, has given the campaign a fresh lease life in this, the 10th year of Narayan’s passing away. He has written to prime minister Manmohan Singh and railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to name a train between Mysore and Bangalore as Malgudi Express, and urged communications minister Kapil Sibal to release a stamp.

It might be too early to hail this attempt, but at least for trying, Krishna deserves some plaudits.

Also read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knews

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

9 June 2011

On the 10th anniversary of his passing away, The Guardian, London, has a long piece on the legendary creator of the fictional town of Malgudi, R.K. Narayan, with churumuri‘s own Sunaad Raghuram quoted in it.

churumuri‘s 2006 campaign for keeping Narayan’s memory alive in Mysore, by renaming a Mysore-Madras train as Malgudi Express, connecting the two cities Narayan was connected with, also finds passing mention.

“There is at least one place in Mysore where you can put your finger on the elusive RKN – at his former home, up in the northern suburb of Yadavagiri. It was built to his own specifications in the late 1940s.

“The area, then rustic and isolated, is now a leafy street in a pleasantly breezy uphill location, but the house stands empty and rather forlorn, with a look of out-of-date modernity – two storeys, cream-coloured plaster, with a stoutly pillared verandah on the first floor.

“The idiosyncratic touch is a semi-circular extension at the south end of the house, like the apse of a church. On the upper floor of this, lit by eight windows with cross-staved metal grilles, he had his writing room.

“It had such a splendid view over the city – the Chamundi Hill temple, the turrets and domes of the palace, the trainline below the house – that he had to curtain the windows, “so that my eyes might fall on nothing more attractive than a grey drape, and thus I managed to write a thousand words a day”.

“A few hundred yards up the street stands the smart Hotel Paradise. The manager is Mr Jagadish, a courteous and slightly mournful man with a neat grey moustache. He knew Narayan in the 1980s, when he would sometimes dine at the hotel with his equally famous younger brother, the Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman.

“I ask what he was like, but it is Laxman who stands out in his memory. Laxman was “very funny”, and had opinions about everything, but Narayan was “more serious”. He was a modest man, he didn’t “blow his trumpet”.

“Sometimes, says Mr Jagadish, he has guests who ask him: “Where is Malgudi?” He laughs and taps the side of his head. For a moment I think he is giving an answer to the question – that Malgudi was all inside one man’s head – but what he means, of course, is that the question is daft.

“Narayan was asked it many times, and ducked it in a variety of ways. One of his more enigmatic answers was this – “Malgudi is where we all belong, and where we wish we lived.”

Read the full tribute: Rereading R.K. Narayan

Illustration: courtesy James Fennelly/ Adelphi University, New York

R.K. Laxman/ The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

M.R. SHIVANNA, a true 24/7 journalist, RIP.

22 May 2011

churumuri.com records with regret the passing away of M.R. SHIVANNA, an unsung hero of Indian journalism, in Mysore on Saturday. He was 55, and is survived by his wife and daughter.

For 30 years and more, Shivanna slogged away in remarkable obscurity and was one of the pillars on which stands India’s most successful English evening newspaper, Star of Mysore. Starting out as a sub-editor in the local tabloid, Shivanna, a son of a farmer, had grown to be editor of the family-owned SoM at the time of his death.

Shivanna was no poet. His prose wouldn’t set the Cauvery on fire, nor was it intended to.

First in at work and last man out of the office, he wrote simple functional sentences day after relentless day. While dozens of young men cut their teeth at Star of Mysore on their way to bigger things in Bangalore and beyond, Shivanna stayed on, lending his boss K.B. GANAPATHY the kind of quiet solidity every owner and editor can only envy.

Here, CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY, one of Shivanna’s myriad ex-colleagues, who moved from Star of Mysore on to Frontline, The Week and The Times of India, among other ports of call, pays tribute.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

“(MRS).”

For decades, lakhs of Mysoreans have seen these three letters of the alphabet appended to thousands of news reports in Star of Mysore and Mysooru Mitra, Mysore’s dour media siblings, steered successfully by its founder-editor K.B. Ganapathy.

For most readers, these initials are a daily mystery, unravelled only in the anniversary issue of the two newspapers in February and March, respectively, when a mandatory “long-form” piece or an interview appears with the full form of the byline: M.R. Shivanna.

But for the remainder of the year, (MRS) was a byword for his straight, unaffected style.

As a journalist, Shivanna knew his limitations and that perhaps was his greatest strength. In a world of flamboyant story-tellers, he was the odd man out. Shorn of scholarly airs or intellectual pretensions, MRS pursued his vocation with a constancy of purpose, a fierce diligence that is rare in a profession where careerism has taken hold.

At times it seemed as if MRS literally lived in the newsroom, straddling two worlds, two sensibilities.

He finished his work at Star of Mysore, which is an English evening newspaper, in the afternoon, only to seamlessly drift to the other part of the building and discharge his duties at Mysooru Mitra, the Kannada morning daily form the same group.

You called the office at any unearthly hour, and more often than not MRS would pick up the phone, ready with pen on paper. A bulk of the information from across the districts was communicated over phone by a network of stringers and reporters, who spoke in varying  degrees  of clarity. MRS was an expert in tactfully prising out ‘news’ from these guys, night or day.

MRS was a 24×7 journalist before 24×7 became business jargon.

***

In 1990, just before taking up my journalism course, I ventured to work in Star of Mysore as a trainee.

K.B. Ganapathy, after a cursory chat, called in MRS and asked him to take me under his wing and put me through the paces.

At first glance, MRS was distinctly unimpressive: He was frail, he had a funny moustache, he tucked his shirt out, walked with a slouch and was staccato in his speech. He fobbed me off to his colleague at the desk, Nandini Srinivasan, who helped me tremendously through the early years.

Over a period of time, slowly, steadily I built some rapport with MRS. Sometimes he would call me out for an occasional smoke which I would readily accept in the hope of having a good conversation. But MRS would keep to himself and allow me to do all the talking, seldom proffering advice or insight, a genial smile displaying his tobacco-stained teeth.

There was a manic phase, of about a month or so, when I drank with him regularly at a fancy bar in Mysore. These sessions were unremarkable, almost matter-of-fact,  as MRS insisted that the Hindi music be played at an exceptionally high volume. There was no chance for exchange of ‘journalistic views’ leave alone banter.

Through the years in college, my association with Star and MRS continued. He would give me occasional assignments and background on stories that I was following.  Although writing in English did not come naturally to MRS, he honed it over the years through repeated practice.

His news reports were structured tightly in the classic “5 Ws and 1 H” formula, and it served him well.

There were reams and reams of buff paper on which he wrote with a cheap ball point pen that leaked, smudged and grew errant due to over use. He had this peculiar habit of bringing the nib close to his lips and blowing at it, like as if he was fanning a dying cigarette. He did that always, probably to fuel his pen’s fervor.

As an old-school journalist brought up on letter press, MRS also used and understood sub-editing notation better than most journalists. He used a red ink pen to underline a letter twice for capitalisation, a hurried swirl to denote deletion, “stet” if he wanted something to stay as is.

And for all his limitations with the language, if you were ever at a sudden loss for a word, those standard ones that you use to embellish journalistic copy, MRS would spout it in a second. The words swam in his head all the time.

Instinct and Intuition guided his journalistic disposition.

Passion and Persistence gave it  further ballast.

***

In 1993, “MRS” won the Karnataka Rajyothsava award. And as it happens in journalistic circles, there were whispers of how he had engineered it all, how it was a complete joke, how he was underserving, etc. MRS continued unfazed, doing what he did best, day after day after day. In due course, the tired critics went to sleep.

Many years later, at the Taj Lands End in Bombay, I hastened to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite before a conference. I had by then quit journalism to join Intel.

I heard a familiar “Hello, Chethu”.

I swung around to see MRS holding a bowl of fruits.

Over breakfast, he told me that Intel had flown him down to cover the event and simply amazed me with the information he had collected about the company’s latest products and plans. He kept jotting down notes verifying and cross-checking facts as we spoke. That evening we promised to get together but it didn’t happen.

During R.K .Laxman’s  last visit to Mysore about two years back, MRS took on the entire responsibility of hosting him in the City. Apart from ensuring that the Laxmans stayed in a friend’s hotel he organised their trip to Chamundi hills for an exclusive darshan. Laxman was profusely thankful to him during the visit.

On their last day in Mysore, MRS called me over the phone. He began with enquiring about my well being and slowly moved on to  a long conversation on Laxman’s perspective on various issues around him. I took the journalist’s bait and went with the flow filling him with facts, quotes, trivia.

I imagined MRS at his desk, his pen scribbling away on sheafs of paper, periodically blowing into his nib, probably conjuring the headline, the lead, the middle for his copy.

MRS will continue to write wherever he is. In the end, the smudges don’t matter really.

Also read: A song for an unsung hero: C.P. Chinnappa

***

IN MEMORIAM

Naresh Chandra Rajkhowa: journo who broke Dalai Lama story

Chari, a lens legend at The Hindu

Harishchandra Lachke: A pioneering cartoonist

T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Jyoti Sanyal: The language terrorist and teacher

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

Sabina Sehgal Saikia: The resident food writer

M.G. Moinuddin: The self-taught newspaper designer

On this day, 70 years ago, a magazine was born

4 April 2011

R.K. Laxman may have made his name after a lifetime at The Times of India, but it was for a small Kannada humour monthly called Koravanji that the Mysore-born cartoonist drew his first works.

The magazine had been inspired by the British satirical magazine Punch. The first issue of Koravanji saw the light of day on Ugadi, 70 years ago, and shut down 25 years later, in 1967.

A CD containing 300 past issues of Koravanji (which refers to fortune-telling tribal women) was released in Mysore last week, and a website has been launched to keep the jokes going.

***

Prof A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former head of the department of ancient history and archaeology of the University of Mysore, recounts the origin of Koravanji in Star of Mysore.

“The editor of Korvanji was Dr R. Shivaram, popularly known as RaShi. He was a medical doctor but his stethoscope could detect humour. It seems that he was a regular reader of  Punch, the internationally known humour magazine.

“The college in which RaShi was studying auctioned all the old magazines including Punch. Shivaram managed to collect Rs 3 to buy them. But the Principal of the college himself purchased the lot at Rs 4.

“The boy was highly disappointed. But the understanding Principal presented all the volumes to Shivaram as a gift. This precious gift from the Principal was a turning point in the career of young Shivaram and years later he started the monthly magazine Koravanji.

“The first issue appeared on Ugadi day of Chitrabanu Samvatsara (1942). Each issue was sold at 4 annas of 25 paise. Newspaper agents purchased the copies but did not pay the Editor/MD. The doctor who had made a good name had no cure for these agents.”

Koravanji‘s editorial menu comprised humourous skits, light hearted poems, parodies, gossip, limericks, cartoons, etc. The absence of obscene lines and double entendre was a stand-out feature, according to the professor.

Links via E.R. Ramachandran

***

Also read: Laxman & Narayan: How one family produced two geniuses

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

EXCLUSIVE: The unpublished doodles of R.K. Laxman

Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

Questions for M/s Anil Kumble & Javagal Srinath

8 January 2011

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Bangalore:  R.K. Narayan‘s daughter didn’t become a writer; R.K. Laxman‘s son didn’t become a cartoonist. Shivarama Karanth‘s son didn’t become a writer or a yakshagana artiste. M.N. Srinivas‘s daughter didn’t become a sociologist. Chennaveera Kanavi‘s sons didn’t become poets.

Yet…

Yet, Sunil Gavaskar‘s son played for India. K. Srikkanth‘s son and V. Sivaramakrishnan‘s son play for Tamil Nadu. Shivlal Yadav‘s son plays for Hyderabad. Mohammed Azharuddin‘s son auditioned for Calcutta Knight Riders. And so on.

On the strength of the evidence on hand, it is safe to conclude that cricketing talent flows smoothly in the blood of Indian cricketers from generation to generation. All you have to do is to hope and pray that you are born to a cricketer as a male child, and you are set for life.

The most conclusive piece of evidence comes from Karnataka, where cricketers have “run the game” for a decade and more, because apparently cricket is best run by cricketers.

Here, magically and miraculously, Brijesh Patel’s son Udit Patel plays for the State. Roger Binny‘s son Stuart Binny plays for the State. B. Raghunath‘s son Mithun Beerala played for the State. Syed Kirmani‘s son Sadiq Kirmani is always knocking the doors.

How this medical miracle has been achieved by Karnataka’s cricketers who “run the game” is something genome scientists might like to probe. But this medical miracle has once again been revealed to the world after Karnataka’s defeat inside five sessions of a Ranji Trophy semi-final against Baroda.

So far, the new cricketers who “run the game”—KSCA president Anil Kumble and KSCA secretary Javagal Srinath—have directed all their negative energy following the defeat at the quality of the pitch prepared by the hosts at the Reliance Stadium.

Fair enough.

But surely, they have a question or two to answer themselves about the medical miracle that Karnataka cricket is being strangled by.

# Like, how does Udit Patel, who has 45 wickets from 19 first-class matches, figure in match after match? (In contrast, Tamil Nadu’s R. Ashwin has 134 wickets from 45 matches.)

# Like, how does a fat, unfit Stuart Binny, whose batting average is what is bowling average should be and vice-versa, get in ahead of all-rounders straining every sinew, notwithstanding a rare burst of heroics?

# And above all, there is the curious case of Sunil N. Raju, son of the cricketer-turned-KSCA pitch curator, Narayana Raju.

With a sum total of 92 runs and seven wickets from four first-class matches in two years, Sunil Raju magically made it to the Karnataka Ranji semi-final squad for the fifth game of his career last week.

He scored a grand total of two lovely runs and took two invaluable second-innings wickets when the hosts were chasing 43, and this after being called for chucking during his only over in the first innings.

Makarand Waingankar, the KSCA’s talent scout during the Brijesh Patel era, writes in today’s Hindu:

“Karnataka took the risk of playing an off-spinner who is on the list of BCCI for suspect action. When his team needed him the most after Baroda was five for 44, he was cautioned by the umpire in his first over. So he could bowl only one over in the crucial first innings.

The irony is that Javagal Srinath, who is in the BCCI committee to identify the bowlers with suspect action, is also the secretary of the KSCA.

“If the bowler in question was selected it was the biggest folly as they played one spinner short. And they made an off-spinner who had won them the game with bat and ball against U.P. sit out.”

No prizes for guessing whose cause Waingankar is batting for—Brijesh Patel’s son Udit.

Still as M/s Kumble and Srinath, both of them sons of non-cricketers, go about the task of cleaning the augean stables of Karnataka cricket, they have a couple of questions to answer.

Questions that their friends in the cricket media in Bangalore are unlikely and/or unwilling to ask.

# One, do they honestly believe that cricket is in the genes of Karnataka cricketers that their sons should be so blindly promoted?

# Two, how much longer will they tolerate this nonsense while they wax eloquent about giving talent and excellence their rightful due?

# Three, at this rate, do they really think cricketers know best about the game and its interests?

***

Photograph: From left, Roger Binny, Anil Kumble, Brijesh Patel and Javagal Srinath at a press conference shortly before the KSCA elections in early November 2010 (courtesy The Hindu)

***

Also read: Can Jumbo & Babu usher in change without namma Hari?

Secret of Anil Kumble‘s success is his un-Kannadiganess

Javagal Srinath: The most famous Mysorean in the world?

Does any other cricketer in India stand in a railway queue?

***

External reading: How Udit Patel edged out Mysore’s Dharmichand

Ram Guha: Why B. Akhil should have been picked over Stuart Binny

‘Who told you I am a Tamilian? I am a Kannadiga’

18 August 2010

The hand of India’s most famous newspaper cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, lies still in a hospital in Bombay without a pen or pencil in its grip. Not even sure if (or when) it will regain the strength to pick up a pen or pencil to regale the millions who have woken up to the magic behind its mind for decades.

In this churumuri.com exclusive, Laxman’s grand-nephew, the journalist turned corporate manager Chetan Krishnaswamy, paints an intimate portrayal of Mysore-born, Kannada-speaking “Dudu”, with unpublished doodles and illustrations from the family album.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

After resolutely hanging on to the front page of The Times of India for close to 60 years now, it is perhaps difficult for the Common Man to remain in obscurity for too long.

Even as his creator lies in a hospital in Bombay recuperating from a series of paralytic strokes, the Common Man seems to have naively steered himself into the centre of a religious controversy.

A caricature of contemporary politics based on a biblical scene, with the Common Man occupying Jesus’s position, which appeared in ToI in July, hurt a section of the Christian community. Matters seem to have cooled off after the newspaper tendered an apology.

Many years ago R.K. Laxman had infuriated a group of Hindu fanatics when a cartoon showed  them setting fire to an automobile. The group had barged into his room and demanded to know how Lord Ram’s staunch followers could be projected as rabid arsonists.

Much to their annoyance, the quick-witted Laxman expressed his doubts on whether they had all really imbibed the Ramayana.  He went on to expound that the most ardent Ram bhakt was Lord Hanuman, who had gone about setting fire to Lanka with his blazing tail.

Rather confused, the group had trooped out awkwardly.

***

Suffice to say, Laxman has led an unconventional life. In 1960 he divorced his then dancer-wife Kamala and married his niece also named Kamala. Laxman did it on his terms and brooked no criticism.

The genius is prone to being eccentric and intimidating at times.

At a Bollywood party, a fawning crowd sought his views on actor Sanjay Dutt’s involvement  in the Bombay serial blasts of 1993. Laxman said that he did not think that the actor had played a major role in the terrorist act.

“However, the judge should pronounce the death sentence for the way he looks and the way he acts,” added Laxman brazenly.

There was a disconcerting hush that preceded this statement.

***

On most occasions when Laxman travelled into Bangalore or Mysore, I would be his privileged companion. I drove with him (and Kamala) to all his engagements and eagerly absorbed  his wry observations, sarcastic comments and comical anecdotes.

His world view was simple yet fascinating.

Laxman’s spontaneity and brilliance, was most visible when he held forth before an eager, awe-struck audience.

On one occasion, he recounted how he had mastered the art of slinking away from noisy parties that always began well past midnight. At an appropriate hour,  Laxman would sidle up to the host, mumble a vague incoherent excuse interspersed with words like “airport”, “appointment” , “meeting”  etc.

Invariably, the tipsy host would fall for the ploy and accompany him to the exit.  At home, Laxman would contentedly  slurp on his staple fare of curd rice and retire to bed.

Once in Mysore, after we finished attending a seminar, a leading business house was hosting dinner in Laxman’s honour that evening.

After a hot bath we headed to the venue, which was supposed to be at one of the offices of this flourishing  group. The minute we landed there, Laxman  noticed that people were already mid-way through their bisi bele baath and mosaranna.

The bigger crisis was that there was no whisky being served.

In a split second, Laxman grabbed the arm of his old friend, the legendary nuclear scientist Raja Ramanna (who hailed from Vontikoppal originally), coaxed him to abandon his plate and propelled him out.

All of us jumped into Raja Ramanna’s Mercedes and headed to Hotel King’s Kourt for Johnny Walker Black Label and dinner.

Of course, a magnanimous Raja Ramanna paid the bill.

Earlier that day at the seminar in Mysore’s intellectual retreat Dhvanyaloka,   Laxman was edgy while presenting his paper.

At one point, the academic doyen Dr C.D.Narasimhaiah interjected and commented: “You Tamilians have always been humorous….”

The Mysore-born Laxman bore into him from above his thick rimmed glasses and said: “Who told you I am a Tamilian, I am a Kannadiga….”

The loudest applause came from noted Kannada writer S.L.Bhyrappa, who was sitting by my side. I would like to believe that Laxman was quite genuine when he made that comment.

***

On another occasion, chief minister S.M.Krishna was felicitating the cartoonist at Bangalore’s Institution of Engineers. Soon after the event, there was a milling crowd that blocked me from getting to Laxman.

Even as the driver revved the State car with Laxman in it, there  was confusion all around, security was instructed to look for a certain Chetan Krishnaswamy.

Sensing an emergency, I rushed to the car and plugged my head in, he looked at me a trifle irritated  and enquired: “So where are we going?”

That evening, accompanied by my dear friend and former bureaucrat Pramod Kumar Rai, we sipped beer in his guest house.  The next morning the hospitable Chief Minister’s wife sent the Laxmans piping hot idlis for breakfast.

***

On a visit to a not-so-distant relative’s house in Bangalore, he irritatedly whispered into my ears: “Who is who here? The servants and the relatives all look the same.”

Thankfully nobody heard that.

Dudu , as Laxman is called in the family, was born on 24 October 1924, the youngest of six sons. His strict headmaster father Rasipuram Venkataraman Krishnaswamy Iyer was  imperious and remote, preoccupied with his work to bother much about his youngest son.

The mother Gnanambal, who was the Mysore Maharani’s favourite partner in tennis, bridge and chess, was the cheerful collaborator.

Not many know that in his working years Laxman unfailingly sent his mother a portion of his salary by post. When he came to Mysore on vacation, he would spend most of  his time sprawled on his mother’s cot.

The other great influence was his famous sibling R.K.Narayan, who, to young Laxman’s relief, underplayed the importance of academics, connected him to important artists in Mysore and allowed him to illustrate his short stories for The Hindu set in mythical Malgudi.

Interestingly, both the brothers had contrasting personalities.

While Narayan was a teetotaler, unassuming, patient and more gentle; Laxman was mercurial and quite a free-spirited rabble rouser. Narayan mentored his nephews and grand nephews; was always concerned about the extended family’s well being and future.

Laxman was affectionate but seemed more distant.

However, both brothers were non-ritualistic in their spiritual beliefs.  Laxman, though was a little more vocal in criticising established religion and sometimes refused to walk into crowded temples.

His favorite deity has always  been the playful elephant god Ganesha, which he drew with great dexterity and vigor. For his artist eye, the rotund form seemed to manifest itself everywhere: in a tree trunk, a weather beaten boulder, a drifting cloud, etc.

Laxman’s  other enduring  subject has been the common crow, whose quirks have held him spell-bound  since childhood. Curiously, Narayan’s obsession was the owl: he had accumulated a collection of statuettes  over a period of time.

As kids, my cousins and I would be intrigued by this strange collection every time we were able to sneak into Narayan’s  airy room in Mysore.

Is there an explanation for one family spawning two such outstanding creative figures?

N.Ram, the present chief editor of The Hindu, had attempted to respond to that question:

“It happens very rarely but it has happened elsewhere. They express individual genius, which has always defied explanation, but they are also products of a particular family and social milieu that has been congenial to creativity: liberal and modern in outlook, yet imbued with strong values and laidback integrity and respectful of independence and originality.

“The link between childhood and adult creativity is now well recognised in the social science, especially psychological, literature: that is, the importance to the creative mind of a childhood in which exploration and curiosity are encouraged, not restricted or stifled.

“Laxman, a decade-and-a-half younger than Narayan, is very different in make-up, temperament and experience. But he is a product of the same kind of upbringing and social milieu that have fostered creativity, although they cannot of course ‘explain’ it.

“Further, Laxman (who, in his autobiography, tells us that ‘I do not remember wanting to do anything else except draw’) has clearly benefited, from the beginning, from having Narayan around him: to mind him as a child, to encourage his independence and creativity, to have him illustrate his Malgudi stories and novels, to take pride, without ever making a fuss, in his gift and accomplishments. I have observed the two brothers together: so close, yet so different, and so independent from each other—creative contrasts from one distinctive, difficult to replicate, pool.”

***

Although Laxman never wore a wrist watch in his entire life, he had a fondness for tweaking watches and other mechanical contraptions. He was the quintessential man about the house repairing gadgets that had broken down and fixing other knick knacks.

A born engineer!

As kids he would regale us with magic tricks. Coins would disappear and appear, sometimes dropping out of our noses and ears. He always had a bundle of tricks up his sleeve, and was the most awaited guest in our houses.

In the later years, brother R.K.Srinivasan’s home  kept a brown hardbound book for Laxman to doodle everytime he came on a vacation. The book, a family heirloom, has a range of Laxman’s caricatures.

They are whacky, whimsical, political, absurd – perhaps  reflecting Laxman’s relaxed mood. A whole bunch of them are ball-point scribbles, but with the distinctive stamp of the artist.

***

In November last year, Laxman visited Bangalore and Mysore and patiently posed for pictures with the entire family. It was painful to see him wheel chair bound and cheerless. A paralytic stroke had rendered his left side completely useless.

I had lunch with the Laxmans in their hotel room in Mysore and took them for a quick drive around Laxman’s old haunts in the city. He rode with me in silence, periodically making uncharitable comments about the city.

He cursed the lack of street lights, the  bad roads and shoddy planning of what was once his most beloved city. This time,  I was careful not to make unnecessary small talk or embellish his views with my own banalities.

As darkness set in, he wanted to be dropped back to his hotel. Unlike in the past, it seemed evident that the genius  had not enjoyed the drive.  As his helpers heaved him out of the car and placed him on  his wheel chair, he thanked me quickly and cursed the flight of stairs that appeared before him.

***

Recently, actor Akshay Kumar visited him at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai to talk to him about his latest film that was based on the Common Man.

Wonder whether Laxman will ever regale an audience about this encounter with the same fervor and zest.

***

Author photograph: courtesy Facebook

View unpublished doodles/ illustrations: here and here

***

Also read: Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

Laxman & Narayan: How one family produced two geniuses

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Why ToI was right to use The Last Supper motif

6 August 2010

The Times of India printed this 8-column illustration by Neelabh Banerjee in late July, to accompany a story titled “The Lost Supper” on the plight of the common man in the face of galloping food prices.

The illustrator put R.K. Laxman‘s man from Matunga where Jesus sat in Leonardo da Vinci‘s original. But following complaints from Christians, The Times published an apology three days later.

Allwyn Fernandes, the Times of India‘s former chief reporter in Bombay and now director of media practice and social engagement practice at R&PM: Edelman, joins issue with the protestors.

***

By ALLWYN FERNANDES

I know this is going to upset many, but I must raise it.

Ancy D’Souza has written a letter to Jaideep Bose, editor of The Sunday Times of India, protesting against the cartoon titled “The Lost Supper” in the issue dated July 25, 2010.

You can see the cartoon here.

Ancy (and many others who share his sentiments on Facebook) says that the cartoon has hurt the religious sentiments of Christians deeply by projecting R.K. Laxman’s Common Man as the centre of The Lost Supper, with politicians of all hues sitting around him.

The cartoon symbolises the situation in India today, especially over the past year, as food prices spiral upwards and politicians serve up empty promises, the common man is left empty-handed and with an empty stomach.

But Ancy sees it differently: “You have made mockery of our religious beliefs. Kindly apologize for the blunder you have created or else we may have to plan a very stringent course of action,” says his letter to Jaideep Bose.

But is the cartoon really offensive and has it made a mockery of our religious beliefs?

If Ancy visits my home, above my dining table is a painting from the Philippines titled “Table of Hope.” It depicts Jesus at the table, with a lot of ragged and dirty street urchins around him instead of the apostles. There is also a cute little urchin hiding under the table!

Everyone who has dined at my table has marveled at the artist’s depiction of what Jesus would do today—round up and invite us to his table not priests, bishops and cardinals in pink fancy wear, not even us Catholics praying in churches.

No, he would round up the urchins, the poor and the hungry at our railway stations and bus stands and in our schools and break bread with them. Yes, there is deep hunger even in Mumbai — thousands come to school hungry even in our Catholic schools because their parents have no jobs or the money to give them a proper meal.

That picture was not given to me by an atheist or agnostic, but by a solid SVD priest, Fr Franz-Josef Eilers, secretary of the office of social communications of the federation of Asian bishops’ conferences.

I believe that the Sunday Times of India cartoon, by using a scene that symbolizes Christianity’s most solemn moment, depicts the picture in India today very powerfully.

What are we protesting against?

Did not Jesus say “whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me”? Did He not say, and have countless artists down the centuries not portrayed good being done to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the tired and the dispossessed as being done to Jesus himself? Then how are our sentiments hurt?

That Common Man in the cartoon, dispossessed of his meal, represents Jesus himself. And around him in the cartoon you see politicians of all hues, fussing around him.

Was everyone around the last Supper pure of heart? Did you not have a Judas whom countless artists have painted with his thirty pieces of silver? And did not Peter refuse to let Jesus wash his feet? And then deny he knew Jesus at all thrice before the sun rose, this same Peter on whose rock He would build His Church?

Didn’t those 12 men that we believe were round the table with Jesus at his last meal not human beings, with all their human failings – just like those depicted in the cartoon?

It is time to take a broader view.

That cartoon is something I would enlarge and put up in every church and use for reflection of the hunger that exists in our country today – hunger of every kind, while the politicians huff and puff without purpose around the hungry Common Man at the centre of it all.

Also read: The newspaper cartoon that offended Christians

Newspaper cartoon that’s offending Israelis

Newspaper cartoon that’s offending Aussies

External reading: A day in the life of The Times of India

Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

21 June 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: A question mark hangs over India’s most famous exclamation mark after a further slip in health of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman, the iconic cartoonist of The Times of India.

The 86-year-old Laxman, who has drawn cartoons for ToI for 63 years, has been airlifted to Bombay, reportedly after suffering a “mild stroke”, and is receiving treatment at the Breach Candy hospital, family sources say.

(A report in The Times of India says he suffered three mini-strokes between Thursday and Saturday.)

Already a shadow of his former self after a first stroke seven years ago which affected his left hand, R.K. Laxman, as he is known to newspaper readers, was first admitted to the Sahyadri hospital in Poona, where he currently lives, but was airlifted to Bombay on Sunday evening.

Mysore-born Laxman was last spotted at the engagement ceremony of his grand-niece in Bombay earlier this year.

Despite his first stroke, Laxman returned to draw the “You Said It!” pocket cartoon for The Times of India every morning, although the state of his health showed in the scraggly lines and often times in the cartoon being desultorily buried in the inside pages.

On days he doesn’t come up with a cartoon, ToI dips into its archives.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Look who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

External reading: The Ramon Magsaysay foundation citation

It takes all types to keep a City clean and green

19 June 2009

DSC03807

At the beautiful Gangothri Glades cricket stadium in the city that produced English language wordsmiths of the calibre of R.K. Narayan and R.K. Laxman, Raja Rao and U.R. Anantha Murthy, H.Y. Sharada Prasad and T.S. Satyan, a small epitaph to the gigantic ocean of learning, Manasagangothri, behind it.

Also read: So that your childrens doesn’t learn English

Arly to rice makes menu helthy, velthy and vice

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The Sharada Prasad only I knew

4 September 2008

'A man of few words who was a master of words'

More than a few people have been intrigued by churumuri.com‘s description of H.Y. Sharada Prasad as the ultimate exemplar of the “Mysore School of Writing“—not too light, not too heavy. And the questions have come flying at us: Is there really such a thing as “Mysore School of Writing”, like the Mysore School of Dance or the Mysore School of Yoga? Has any scholar done some research on such writing? Why the double-quote marks? Who are the other practitioners? Etcetera.

We named R.K. Narayan, R.K. Laxman, and T.S. Satyan as good examples of the “Mysore School of Writing”. We could have added other luminaries like Raja Ramanna, M.N. Srinivas, and A.K. Ramanujan.

And T.S. Satyan’s brother, T.S. Nagarajan.

A former photographic officer in the photo division of the government of India—a job that saw him work closely with Sharada Prasad on Yojana magazine—Nagarajan is best known as (probably) the only chronicler of the interiors of turn-of-the-century houses.

In this churumuri.com exclusive, Nagarajan remembers his days with “Shourie”.

***

By T.S. NAGARAJAN

While I was in Mysore, after my graduation, waiting to find my feet in life, I met H.Y. Sharada Prasad for the first time when he came to our home in Saraswathipuram to visit the family and especially to meet my mother whom he liked and respected.

He was dressed in khadi kurta and pyjama with a jacket to match and wore Kolhapuri chappals.

I had not yet taken to photography and journalism and so he didn’t interest me much. But I liked the way he talked and looked—like a bright young Gandhian. He measured his words when he spoke and gave brief answers to my mother’s queries as he enjoyed the the cup of tea that she made for him.

I didn’t know that after a few years, I would have the opportunity to work with him.

Sharada Prasad succeeded Khushwant Singh as the chief editor of Yojana, the journal of the Planning Commission.  By then, I had joined the journal as its photographer. Yojana was already two years old. My colleagues and I wondered whether the new editor could adequately fit into Khushwant’s place and make a success of the journal.

The bigger worry was whether Sharada Prasad with his reputation as “a man of few words and somewhat reserved” would be bossy and officious in dealing with his colleagues.

None of these happened.

Khushwant Singh produced a very lively and readable journal without resorting to the famous Khushwant formula which he successfully tried later as the editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India. His hope of making the journal the talk of the town in the country had failed miserably because of the utter inability of the government to organise a good network of distributors. He had left the journal an unhappy man.

It is against this background that Sharada Prasad, took over the reins of the journal.

Yojana had its office in Yojana Bhawan on Parliament Street. The chief editor had a spacious room on the second floor. The rest of the editorial and administrative staff was located on the fifth floor. I had a room for myself: Number 508.

By background and temperament Sharada Prasad was very different from Khushwant Singh.  But within weeks after he took over, he gave the impression that he found the job very satisfying. He retained most of the regular features that Khushwant had introduced as also the emphasis on field reports and their conversational tone but gave more space for discussion, debate and controversy.

He found Yojana Bhavan a ‘civilised’ place because of its atmosphere which resembled that of a university. It didn’t function like a government office. There was a total absence of bureaucratic stiffness. There were many men and women of ideas and achievement working within its portals. Instead of politicians, many celebrities and academicians, acclaimed internationally, came there to meet their Indian counterparts.

It was just the kind of environment that Sharada Prasad loved.

The editorial staff meeting in his room, once a fortnight, was more like a journalism class. He lost no opportunity to tell us how to edit articles and do field reports. He was an expert in wielding the ‘blue pencil’ and a miser with words, but had the unique ability to cut a long story short without in any way affecting its meaning or reducing its impact.

He advised us to read whatever we wrote, more than once, and rewrite, more than once, if necessary, until the piece was trimmed to its right length to make it interesting and effective.

“Beware of the introductory paragraph, make sure it is the best way to begin or else delete it. Most first paragraphs are often mere starters,” he would say.

He believed that writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them.

Among the new features he had introduced in Yojana was a talkative character called “Ignoraman”, who never failed to appear in every issue asking very inconvenient and often tongue-in-cheek questions.

For example he would ask: “Ignoraman wants to know what is needed? Centralised Civil Service, or Civilised Central Service?  The bespectacled genius, whose caricature was a creation of the Yojana artist R. Sarangan, looked like a Thanjavur intellectual. He was very popular not only among the readers but among politicians and bureaucrats too.

Sharada Prasad made Yojana, a journal well respected in university circles and among economists. Most economists who came to Yojana Bhavan didn’t leave without meeting him. His room or my room on the 5th floor, which was adjacent to an unit of the Indian Statistical Institute located on the same floor, would turn into a kitty lunch room for a group of economists who were friends of Yojana.

Most of them came in to the room  with their lunch boxes and shared the food with others. Among the regulars were B.S. Minhas, T.N. Srinivasan, Jagadish Bhagavati, and A. Vaidyanathan—all well-known economists. Many a time the lunch hour would turn into a debating session when important matters of economic policy were seriously debated upon. Thanks to Sharada Prasad and Yojana, I made lasting friendships with most of them.

Sharada Prasad was able to get away with publishing articles critical of the government in an official journal. When asked how he was able to manage this, his answer was “by not seeking anybody’s clearance or permission.” He made it a rule (which Khushwant Singh had also made) of publishing no photographs of ministers and officials, or of ceremonial inaugurations of projects.

The only time he published Nehru‘s photograph was when he passed away.

His stay with Yojana was suddenly cut short when Indira Gandhi became prime minister and chose him as her Information Advisor.

Even while at the South Block, he distinguished himself as a brilliant writer and a dependable consultant on matters of national policy. Even though he left Yojana, both of us kept in constant touch with each other. We edited some books together (mainly The Spirit of India) and worked on major expositions on India abroad.

I met Sharada Prasad frequently in his office room which was very close to that of the Prime Minister. On several occasions, while we were working, there would be a soft knock and the door would open a little. The prime minister would peep in and say, “Sharada Prasadji…”

He would excuse himself and leave the room.

Though he remained in the Prime Minister’s office for long, his close proximity to power  never changed the principles and motives that controlled his life.

He remained the same shy, graceful and a delicate gentleman all his life. Possibly elfin is a word that might describe him physically though it is inadequate to perceive his formidable and sometimes unadorned intelligence.

Ostentation never impressed him.

He hated acquiring things. His most precious possession was his pen.  His house resembled a library and reflected his personality in a way houses rarely do. Most certainly, he was the best-read man I have ever met.

No politician ever came into his home. Those that frequented his house and sometimes remained as house guests were either singers, dancers, artists or men of letters.

I talked with him on phone a few months ago to tell him how much I enjoyed reading his brilliant piece on Ustad Bismillah Khan. I liked the elegant way he had described the artist’s funeral in Varanasi. He wrote: “The newspapers made much of the fact that a state funeral was given to the Bharat Ratna. It must have sounded most incongruous that such a meek man, who symbolised melody, was laid to rest amidst gunfire.”

Sharada Prasad was a master of words.

Photograph: T.S. Nagarajan

Also By T.S. NAGARAJAN: My most unforgettable picture

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

The most memorable house I photographed-I

The most memorable house I photographed-II

Jiddu Krishnamurti on love, death, god, and more

Right people, wrong place, wrong time, right ho

The maharaja’s elephant made me a lensman

H.Y. SHARADA PRASAD PASSES AWAY IN DELHI

2 September 2008

churumuri.com announces with deep regret the passing away of Holenarsipur Yoganarasimha Sharada Prasad, aka H.Y. Sharada Prasad, the legendary Mysorean who served as media advisor to three prime ministers of India, in New Delhi, on Tuesday, 2 September 2008. He was 84 years old, and is survived by his wife Kamalamma, and two sons.

Shourie“, as Sharada Prasad was known to relatives and close friends, was born in Bangalore, educated at the University of Mysore and jailed during the Quit India movement. He joined the Indian Express group in Bombay in 1945, and was a Neiman fellow in journalism at Harvard University in 1955-56.

He edited Yojana, the journal of the Planning Commission, after which followed his stints at the prime minister’s office between 1966-78 and 1980-88, under Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi. During the Janata government, he worked with Morarji Desai for a few months before being posted as director of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC).

The ultimate exemplar of the “Mysore School of Writing”—not too light, not too heavy—that R.K. Narayan, R.K. Laxman, T.S. Satyan among others exemplify, Sharada Prasad wrote books on Karnataka (Exploring Karnataka with Satyan), on the Rashtrapati Bhavan (The Story of the President’s House), and on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (Selected Works).

For someone who shied away from the limelight, Sharada Prasad’s last book was aptly titled The Book I Won’t Be Writing, a collection of columns he wrote for The Asian Age. Although physically unwell in recent years, Sharada Prasad never missed a deadline, somehow managing to get to a computer and send off an artfully composed book review.

***

M.N. Venkatachallaiah on Sharada Prasad:

“Sharada Prasad is an extraordinary life in our times. He is a 16-annas Mysorean, but he is also a 18-annas Indian. He is a great gift of Mysore to the country, who epitomizes sajjanike, saralate, panditya, humility and simplicity. But concealed behind all this is tremendous learning and the strength of great scholarship.

“In our simple but wonderful culture, connubial felicity used to be the thought behind a husband bringing Mysore mallige to his wife, a little Mysore pak, maybe even some Nanjangud rasabale. To that connubial felicity, we can add the graciousness of Sharada Prasad. Please do not think it as a triviality, it has deep meaning.

“He represents a kind of civilisational culture. A culture of sobriety, dignity, humility and enormous amounts of learning. I request Sharada Prasad to spend more time in Mysore and Bangalore. His presence will have a civilizing effect.”

Photograph: Saibal Das via Flickr

Also read: RAMACHANDRA GUHA on Sharada Prasad

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time, during the Quit India movement

The finest English passage on Karnataka

What your mango says about you

Muh mein Ram, Ram. Bagal mein R.K. Laxman?!

14 April 2008

On the day The Times of India launched in Madras, Bellur Ramakrishna steps across the ‘Laxman rekha‘ to see what the “prim, proper, orthodox, conservative, enlightened” reader of The Hindu is peering at.

Also read: The right paper—no political pun intended

‘Good morning, it’s going to be a horrible day’

7 February 2008

Feel-good optimism has become the mantra of the corporate media in rising, shining, roaring India.

Don’t worry, this too shall pass. Poverty, disease, death, illiteracy, corruption, casteism, communalism… all the woes confronting us will vanish if only you train yourself to look at the bright side of things; if only you consume the right kind of media; if only you buy the right kind of products; if only you aspire in the right kind of way…

How very refreshing to come across somebody who says just the opposite; who says things are bad, yes, but it will only get worse; and who has no qualms of being seen as a cynic?

Anuradha SenGupta: You have commented over the years on traffic jams, on corruption, on indifference by elected political representatives, lack of implementation of schemes. Many of those things have not changed, they have remained as they are. Does that make R.K. Laxman a cynical man?

R.K. Laxman: I am a cynical man… I am a born cynical man.

SenGupta: You are not an optimist. You believe that this is the way we are and this is the way we will be.

Laxman: Optimism is one which says that everything will be all right. So, I feel things will get worse, not better. Roads, potholes, traffic, traffic jam, all that have not changed….

SenGupta: I thought there would be hope…

Laxman: How? Sense of humour does not give hope. It has nothing to do with it. Hope means what? Tomorrow everything will be all right? There would be no nuclear war? There would be no Iraq, there would be no Bush… that kind of hope? Things are getting from bad to worse.

SenGupta: The hope that we will be one day conscious enough and active enough to change things the way to what we want them to be.

Laxman: You can’t change, that’s it. It’s not because they are not aware of it. You mean to say politicians are not aware of what is going on? They are aware of it but they are helpless because they want to become leaders. That is the idea – to stand for the elections and get it, that’s the idea of the politicians.

Read the full text: ‘It’s nice to have double standards’

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

3 February 2008

The “Indian of the Year” shows of the various television channels, that has comfortably stretched into the first month of the new year, has largely been a case of much of the same.

So similar were the “brand” objectives; the award categories; the selection methodology; the “beautiful people”; and the target audiences, not to mention the political correctness, that had the shows mistakenly appeared on a rival station, nobody would have noticed. Not that anybody would have cared.

Except…

Except for a flash of inspiration that struck the head honchos of CNN-IBN.

At a time when the political class was falling over each other putting in applications for the Bharat Ratna, the channel conferred a “Lifetime Achievement Award” on a real jewel: Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Laxman, the Mysore-born cartoonist whose common man has held a mirror to the birth, rise and growth of a nation on the front page of The Times of India for well over 50 years now through “You Said It“.

The adjectives flowed freely, and for once unquestionably justly, as Laxman, now bound to a wheelchair after a paralytic stroke three years ago, was ushered in on stage. “For a lifetime of contributions to society, for a lifetime of achievements,” said anchors Vidya Shankar Aiyar and Suhasini Haider. “For having done the nation proud, for having been a part of our lives,” said Rajdeep Sardesai.

But when the citation was read, the 84-year-old Laxman bawled like a baby as former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and vice-president Hamid Ansari joined the audience in standing and saluting a common man who has become uncommon in modern India:

“For being one of the most incisive observers of post-independence India; for making millions of Indians smile every single morning for over 60 years; and for giving the common man of this country, a face, a voice, an identity and a consistent presence and importance in every aspect of our lives.”

Also read: How one family produced two geniuses

The world’s most famous Mysoreans

Cross-posted on sans serif


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